How to thrive in uncertain times
Many people I’ve coached during the Coronavirus pandemic have been surprised at how tired and drained they’ve felt, even if they’ve been less physically active than usual due to self-isolating. Many have also expressed a sense of guilt, as they don’t feel entitled to their feelings since they can’t pinpoint a reason for their reduced energy levels or heightened stress. A common phrase is, “others have it so much worse”.
This article explains why living with prolonged uncertainty can sap our vitality even if we’re not overly busy or working on the frontline. But there are things we can do to help ourselves. In this article I’ll share five simple but powerful tips to navigate uncertain times with less stress and greater ease.
What uncertainty does to our brains
The human brain is hardwired with primal instincts and its main goal is survival. One way it tries to keep us safe is by constantly making predictions about what is going to happen so that we can control our environment and take action. When faced with uncertainty, a threat or alert response is triggered. If this uncertainty is prolonged, our ‘fight or flight’ response is continually activated, which uses up a lot of energy and leads to a build-up of cortisol (our so-called stress hormone). This also affects our sleep.
Top tips to thrive in uncertainty – the five C’s
Since our default mode is to see uncertainty as a stressor, we need to take conscious action to feel more at ease in uncertain times. Fortunately, small mindset shifts can really help:
1. Compassion – first and foremost, don’t beat yourself up for how you’re feeling. That will just waste even more energy. Recognise that you're human and your brain is just doing what it's designed to do. Simply being aware of this can interrupt your stress response and help you manage your reactions more effectively.
2. Curiosity – research shows that individuals who are curious about learning and personal growth are better able to tolerate uncertainty. Instead of asking, “what will happen?” and frantically googling, ask yourself, “what might I learn through this experience?".
3. Core values – when everything around you feels uncertain, reconnect to your core personal values (e.g. honesty, wisdom, courage, kindness, joy). These act as an anchor. Pick a maximum of two or three and when you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself “what next step can I take that is most in line with my values?".
4. Create - Abraham Lincoln once said, “the best way to predict your future is to create it”. So instead of feeling passive in the face of an uncertain world, get involved with creating it. Start small – what is one thing you could do to create a better day? Call a friend? Get some fresh air? Listen to your favourite music?
5. Connect – rest assured we will all struggle at times with feeling overwhelmed, tired or anxious in the face of uncertainty. By opening up and talking about it, you’ll not only help yourself but others too.
If all this sounds a lot, just pick one of the five C’s and focus on that for a few weeks until it becomes a habit. But most of all, be kind to yourself as you try out new ways of thinking about uncertainty.